On Feb. 9, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an Opinion Letter to provide guidance on whether an eligible employee with a chronic serious health condition that requires a reduced schedule leave may use Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to limit their workday indefinitely, and whether this restriction should be only treated as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In the Opinion Letter, the DOL said that an eligible employee with a chronic serious health condition with a medical need to limit their schedule may use FMLA leave to work a reduced number of hours per day (or week) for an indefinite period, as long as the employee does not exhaust their FMLA entitlement.
The FMLA regulations define a reduced leave schedule as a leave schedule that reduces an employee’s usual number of work hours per workweek, or hours per workday. When an employee requests a reduced leave schedule because of their own serious health condition, there must be a medical necessity, as described in the certification of a serious health condition issued by the employee’s health care provider.
Additionally, the DOL said that the employee should not be limited to invoking the need for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA due to their “schedule limitations,” because an employee may benefit from the simultaneous protections of both the FMLA and the ADA. An employee who has exhausted their FMLA may have additional rights under the ADA or other accommodation laws, which should be analyzed separately.
Employers should be aware that when an employee is requesting reduced hours because their medical condition prevents them from working a full workday, they may, in fact, be requesting a reduced leave. Because the leave provisions of the FMLA are separate and distinct from employer responsibilities under the ADA, employers must also look at the claim to see if and when they may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation.
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